D-backs' Drew puts difficult '09 in past
Free of family worry, shortstop upbeat entering new year
PHOENIX -- Ask A.J. Hinch about shortstop Stephen Drew this spring and the D-backs manager uses words like upbeat, energetic and positive.
It is quite a contrast from what Drew experienced in 2009 when words like injured, worried and unsure were the more accurate adjectives.
If you're wondering why Drew's numbers in '09 looked like a step back for him, that's as good a place as any to start.
Drew is reluctant to discuss last season because he knows anything he says could be interpreted as an excuse and "I don't like 'em."
OK, so let's deal in facts.
It's well known that Drew battled a balky hamstring toward the end of Spring Training and into the regular season last year. Whether that played a role in his slow start at the plate is open to interpretation, but a two-week stretch on the disabled list at the end of April certainly did not help.
"Later on it started coming together," Drew said. "I thought I put some good [at-bats] together and had some good outcomes."
Drew hit .292 in June and raked in July at a .323 clip before he would face something that made a bad hamstring pale in comparison.
Drew's wife, Laura, was expecting their first child and it was in July that Drew first learned there could be complications.
"The best way to describe it is pre-term labor," Drew said. "From about the 25th week on it could have happened at any time. And 25 weeks is really, really early."
Laura was at the couple's home in Georgia while Stephen was in Phoenix or traveling the National League with the D-backs.
"She wasn't here at all and that played in the back of my head," Drew said.
When the team was in Houston in late August, Drew got an emergency phone call after a game. It looked like Laura was going to give birth so he immediately headed home.
"They said it was really, really close so I took off and got a private flight right out," he said. "You're never prepared for something like that."
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After two days at home, Drew rejoined the D-backs while Laura had an emergency number to call that would reach the D-backs training staff during a game.
"I knew at any time I could get a phone call," Drew said.
Over the final two months of the season, Drew was torn between his duties as a husband and his obligation to his teammates as they slogged through a last-place finish.
"Should you go, should you not?" Drew said of his mind-set. "You just didn't know the outcome, and you have no control over it. It just wears on you because you're worried about your family and you're trying to focus on your job. It plays a part. You'd like to say it doesn't, but somehow or another it does."
It was a very human dilemma and a reminder that while ballplayers are measured with statistics there are real people behind the numbers.
"I think what it speaks to is the reality of what players deal with on and off the field," Hinch said. "It's very personal, it's very private. Our families are our rocks. During the chaos of the season, our stability is our home. Any time that's disrupted, it does have a major effect. We're not robots and can stop being a family man the minute I hit the dugout."
Drew, a deeply religious man, stayed with his team and did his best to focus at the ballpark while praying for his unborn child.
"I told them please let me know if something happens and I'll come out of the game," Drew said. "If it came to that or anything happened, family is more important than baseball and always will be. I enjoy playing the game and I don't make any excuses."
When the final out of the '09 regular season was recorded in Chicago, Drew quickly showered and went straight home to be with Laura, who wound up giving birth to a healthy baby boy that the couple named Hank.
"God's in control of everything and I just trust in Him," Drew said. "He could have been born early, but thank God that he wasn't. If he was I knew that was God's plan and I would just go with it. You can't control life. Humans think we can control everything, but we really can't. It's like baseball in that you can put a good swing on the ball, but you can't control what happens after it leaves your bat."
So far this spring, what's leaving Drew's bat is a lot of hits. Through four games he is 5-for-10 with a double and a homer and the difference in his demeanor is noticeable.
"Fatherhood can do that to you," Hinch said. "His wife being healthy and not being in the middle of a tough pregnancy is probably a factor."
One Drew will not have to confront this summer.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.